Note

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The sound of Bobby playing hoops would become my favorite sound in the whole wide world. Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

The sound of death is the percussive snap of my shoes on branches — the leaves bleeding paper soldiers, the perilous drip of a faucet left to dry, my throat catching as I try to hold onto him.

He mattered to me.

He was a kind of home I will never reach. In the vast echoes of this prism universe, their potluck laughter, the time they waste over barbarian customs, their acts of random kindness… none of it touches me.

I interview his classmates, the students he taught in Sunday School, his youngest brother, Jimmy. Impossible hypotheticals for some signs of life, from before.

My loneliness, oh my god the loneliness sits like an anchor in this terrible sea, keeping me from his sun against my skin.

Under the streetlamp of my youth, at the junction of Juniper and Ironwood, I forced myself to memorize every detail. The moment would become a memorial.

Now, memory and dream fuse until I can no longer tell which came first. Maybe I made him up.

A moth flutters against my bulletproof, double-paned window, and drives out into the night, as if to say goodbye.

I don’t want him. I just want him alive.

 

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Apple Cider Donuts

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Photo by Vicky Gu on Unsplash

6:23 a.m.

They were like these, see. But a mound of them left for sale, these, these, brittle, hard, cold fishwives, they reminded me of the day after my son tore his MCL — and the village fled. She thought I would abscond, I always found that word just as harsh but pure, with this useless $5 ticket. I forgot, my simple crime, following the crowd into the lion’s den, my age and my careless mental collateral, falling at the same time.

Three of them angry with me on sight, because they saw my need and assumed I would take without asking, like the little fat-faced, slit I am, this gookchinkjapchingchong street urchin of my shoplifting youth (a green girl’s handbag is all). But I had the money, a pile of ones and fives in Japanese, Australian, and Middle Eastern currency from the man who sought to poach what was left of my life.

His name was David. I think, he loved the idea of me once, Carol superimposed over Harmony, but really a castrated Indian girl. An ass suspiciously wiped clean of hair, gay in the parts he hid.

I could taste those apple cider donuts. Three, at least, maybe four. Fistfuls of fall. Only, I couldn’t find two dollars, just this paper with gookchinkjapchingchong on the front and his thirsty face, showing me his own white picket fence in a desert sea: “Your son would love the wild frontier between Perth and Brisbane.”

We had two daughters, in his dreams.

I am left with nothing. Mother’s whore.

If There’s a Heaven, My Tribe’s Waiting To Go

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Auditorium by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

There’s a moment in Bryan Cranston’s Emmy speech when he looks at Aaron Paul — and the two well up as only “Breaking Bad” co-stars can.

The two shared many years of intense scenes in an award-winning, popular cult classic on AMC. They shared something many of us will never have the good fortune of sharing with another living soul. And, somehow, they gave us a lifeline to hold onto, so we don’t feel adrift in this auditorium of separate, high-tech spaces.

A tight jazz quartet, the home team, survivors of 9/11… they all kinda get the same drift.

It’s what I miss most about working as a reporter and editor back in Hawaii, that camaraderie, that feeling we were in the same boat, rowing toward the same destination.

I guess it’s why so many people went to all that trouble to gaze up at the recent solar eclipse. I read about some of them sharing that incredible sense of awe together in the waiting room before their scheduled colonoscopies, or in the middle of a ball field, golf course, soccer practice.

As comfortable as I am alone, I’m aware of the unbreakable bonds we forge through trying, crazy, fun times.

I remember sitting in the Orlando airport with these strangers when a lightning bolt hit the plane we were about to board. I remember the loudest boom of thunder, as if my head would explode, the departure gates shaking, then complete darkness before lights flickered back. We forgot our place, as if a veil had been lifted, and we began asking what had happened, if everyone was okay, marveling about the close call, sharing our experiences.

That was one moment.

I believe when we return to the Source/the Afterlife/Heaven, we will share this bond again. It will come flooding back to us in a rush, as we reunite with our tribes.

Until then, I will look for you, my friend, and find my forever home in the fleeting recognition of our random scenes together, the strains of music that stop me in my tracks — the extended horns on Miami Sound Machine’s “Bad Boy,” Tears For Fears’ backward-walking guitar fade, Coltrane, a summer-flooded sky we are inextricably drawn to before we lay ourselves down to sleep.

‘Breaking Bad’: Watching My Show

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“Burned out at the Salton Sea” photo by Tina Rataj-Berard on Unsplash

I watched the last episode of “Breaking Bad” last night. Well, technically well into 5 a.m. this morning.

My son said it took me about four days straight.

When it was over, I couldn’t remember how to finish the corner of this afghan I’ve been stitching for over a month. I also felt incredibly empty, a part of me forever lost in that New Hampshire cabin, probably drinking coffee and listening to the snow pelt the tiny, dirty window.

It’s been a crazy ride. I expected addictive television, compelling acting, gritty realism, equal parts character- and plot-driven storytelling.

What I didn’t expect was an intense therapy session.

Keep in mind that I had very little to go on going in. I didn’t know much more about the AMC series other than it had something to do with two idiots cooking meth and their adventures.

After the lead character, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), became “The Cook,” the show took a dark, personal turn for me. It was like watching every influential role model come to life — all of them bad.

Walter gradually turns into Heisenberg on “Breaking Bad.” But he also turns into the best example of a Narcissist I’ve ever seen. Suddenly, I found myself staring at my father, my mother, my brother, former friends, Narcissist types I completely forgot about, the most popular people in the room dropping their masks, revealing themselves as monsters.

Not only that, but I was back in the room with the worst of them, fighting for my very survival (and I’m not overreacting, bitch).

The scene that really did it for me was when Walter basically maneuvers his wife into bringing the kids back home. Skyler forcefully puts her foot down. For normal people, this would be the end of it. Capitulation, compromise.

But Walter pushes back in such a devious, controlling way, turning on his nice guy persona like a light switch. He’s larger than life, and utterly monstrous. After that watershed moment, I could barely look at him. I almost felt real fear for my own safety — even though this was a fictional TV show almost a decade after it started.

I was able to safely go back in time and confront the monster through these characters, Jesse, Skyler, Hank OMG yes. I saw how hard, almost impossible it was for them to resist this Narcissist. I saw the spiraling despair as they sank deeper into the pit of lies Walter continually dug for them all.

I saw so many thing in Walter’s dead eyes and smug assertions: why I am obsessively drawn to the truth, why I’m so quick to condemn what’s beloved, why I always want to cut and run the minute I spot a crack in the armor of your pleasantries.

I saw what lies did to decent, well-meaning people. I saw how they coped, and how they didn’t. I saw their cowardice in full display, and turned away. Cowardice is a trait I cannot bear, the great deal-breaker.

I saw myself in so many of those scenes (minus the drug part).

Back when “Breaking Bad” was the talk of the town, my son said a Twitter poll showed a viewers were split 50/50 about whether to side with Walter or Jesse. Thank heaven, I sided with Jesse.

Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker wrote a fantastic, Aug. 27, 2012 commentary about this moral divide, calling those who defended Walter’s every action “enablers.” Her words were a balm of salvation to me, proof that I had learned from my past after all, and that I would never be duped again:

“To my surprise, some of the most hard-core cynics thought it inconceivable that it could be Walt—that might make the show impossible to take, they said. But, of course, it did nothing of the sort. Once the truth came out, and Brock recovered, I read posts insisting that Walt was so discerning, so careful with the dosage, that Brock could never have died. The audience has been trained by cable television to react this way: to hate the nagging wives, the dumb civilians, who might sour the fun of masculine adventure. ‘Breaking Bad’ increases that cognitive dissonance, turning some viewers into not merely fans but enablers.”

Midway into “Breaking Bad,” I found the courage to finally cut a few more bloodsuckers out of my life. They weren’t necessarily full-blown, malignant Narcissists, although they did possess some aspects, the self-serving, self-centered self-interest, the inability to care about anything or anyone else but themselves, the aversion to self-reflection. They just weren’t good for me anymore. They took and they took, like Walter did, expecting more than they would ever give.

After I finished watching “Breaking Bad,” a friend of mine suggested I take a break, go out into the light, find a comedy to binge on next.

On that lighter note, here are a few less-heavy things that went through my mind while watching “Breaking Bad” — for the most part:

  • Who crocheted those afghans?
  • Did Hank take a dump before or after spying the Walt Whitman book? [After, btw.]
  • Why would Walter ever keep a book that so directly linked him to Gale Boetticher, anyway?
  • My son swears that there’s a real Los Pollos chain in the Southwest. Where? I’m hungry! Twisters is real, yo!
  • My friend, the one who suggested I try lighter TV fare, actually went on a self-guided tour of all the “Breaking Bad” hot spots in Albuquerque. But really, from what I saw, there’s nothing to visit. Denny’s? That Plaza looked like a war-torn Third World Country. Of all the places to visit or move to, Albuquerque would be the least appealing next to Pittsburgh.
  • The entire time I watched, Glen Campbell’s song, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” played in a loop in the background of my mind.
  • Did you hear the awesome soundtrack? I think there’s a cool cover of a jazz standard in there, completely reconstructed and updated for the crystal meth vibe. There’s jazz all over the place, including a cool Steely Dan shout-out from Walter early on.
  • Did Jesse ever love any woman other than Jane, the heroin-addicted tattoo artist?
  • What happened to that redheaded toddler from the crack house?
  • If the Whites were struggling financially, how could they afford a swimming pool?
  • I loved Mike. If it weren’t for him, I’d have lost my mind. He was the audience’s compass north, while Jesse was its heart. I think I need to learn how to respond to Narcissists by acting more like this ill-fated henchman, by not bothering. Working on it.
  • Bryan Cranston is an acting genius. He’s also a Pisces, I believe, which makes a lot of sense. His process fascinated me in an interview about his best-selling book, “A Life In Parts.” When he described how he tried to shake a druggie stalker ex-girlfriend, he reminded me of me — a Narcissist survivor. I’m definitely going on Amazon to buy the book (I love autobiographies), as well as some merch.

Tucking in the Corners

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Photo by Rodney Truitt Jr on Unsplash

I write. When I latch onto the rhythm of the thing, I’m kinda good at it.

I hate my writing. It’s foreign and wrong, somehow. I only read my words to get them ready for deadline, in a clinical fashion, as if they belong to someone else.

Years later, I can read some of my words with some enjoyment. But still, as if they belonged to someone else. There’s a novel in that.

In the last episode of “Breaking Bad,” Walter White finally tells his wife Skyler that he did all the cooking of crystal meth and all of the criminal business that went with it, because “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And… I was really… I was alive.”

Walter’s Bryan Cranston said he used what he went through with a former stalker druggie girlfriend to inform his portrayal. He found acting through this character’s demons enormously therapeutic.

Yeah, that, that’s what I realized about my own act of writing and even reading some of it back. Writing is my therapy, even if nobody reads it but me.

I overdo it, a lot, I admit. I’m extravagant with my words when the inspiration flows. I was earlier last night as I finished another review of a jazz album over at Medium. I could’ve edited down the descriptors, eased up on the lavish embellishments.

But I am the type of writer who doesn’t just make the bed. I have to tuck the corners in, throw in a few nice pillows, a down comforter.

Maybe it’s because in person, I’m not very skilled at conversation. I’m shy, often at a loss for words. A huge part of that’s because I’m not from here, I’m originally from Korea. I came into this world speaking Korean first, English second.

The bi-lingual disconnect also makes me a more stream-of-consciousness writer, in the vein of bizarre absurdist theatre/experimental poetry rather than linear, by-the-book journalism or any essay style anyone’s ever heard of in this country.

Lucky for me, an awful lot of the musicians I review enjoy the offbeat, off-the-cuff way I riff. They feel that I get their vibe. The ones whose music I pan, however, some of them understandably feel that I’m almost quite literally insane or illiterate, my words masturbatory verbal diarrhea.

See? I’m doing it again.

Anyway, I finished “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013) today, oh, around 5:30 a.m. on Netflix. Starting “House Of Cards,” and now catching up on “Breaking Bad” cast interviews, as well as the fan mania behind the series.

Good night for now.

Don’t Be Like Walter

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Am I supposed to like “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White? Because, I don’t. In fact, I hate him with a venom, to the point of distraction.

I hate people like him. The nice guy facade hiding the bully, the self-serving con artist who thinks nothing of relentlessly hounding you into submission and stepping over your body to get to the goods, who expects everyone to fall at his feet, do his bidding, reveal every detail of their every thought, word, and deed, yet “I don’t owe you or anybody any explanation!”

Most of the time when I’m watching this award-winning AMC series — and well into the fourth season — I’m screaming at the top of my lungs for Walter to go fuck himself, or praying that Jesse wises up and lets the dick get what’s coming to him — preferably with a public humiliation and a beating that lasts several weeks, from head to toe.

Bryan Cranston is an amazing actor to pull me in and pull this detestable character off so convincingly. He sure taps into the archetype from hell for me, personally.

I didn’t realize how much I detested this kind of person and how many of them are in my life until I watched Walter in living color on my TV screen.

What bugs me the most about Walter is not necessarily the lying, but the mild-mannered, pleasant, nice family guy act he puts on like a cheap suit, like everyone else does on Facebook and in other manufactured social situations.

It’s a kind of hypocrisy I’ve lived with all my life, and something I really could do without. It’s why I shy away from large groups of people, choose to be by myself, and wait for relationships to end. It’s why I can’t, for my own survival and well-being, take you at your verbose, flowery word.

In my experience, those who talked a good game were the biggest liars once you got past their white picket fences. The nicest ones are almost always colossal assholes. Look at my parents and my brother; they had so many people fooled.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hypocrisy as “a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not :  behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel His hypocrisy was finally revealed with the publication of his private letters.especially :  the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion”

Do you have any idea how much hypocrisy repulses me? The minute I see a person’s mask slip, I’m halfway out the door.

This happens to me all the time, which probably means I’m some sort of sick magnet for Narcissists. (Consider the alternative, right?) I went to therapy about my co-dependency, and believe me, I continue to work on myself and my bug repellant.

Recently, I’ve decided to cut more Walters out of my life.

These are very well-liked, popular people, mind you. They give off the vibe that they’re super-compassionate, understanding, able to be stoic in the face of crises — but only when it comes to them, as I’ve learned repeatedly.

I’ve no problem offering my own compassion and understanding. I’ve even dropped what I was doing to do things for them, offer to do more, even orchestrate financial help. I’ve been there 24/7 if they needed someone to talk to. They’ve never needed me.

When it was my turn, radio silence. They’re suddenly too busy, and we all have to die sometime, Are you right by the Lord?

You know what? Fuck them.

The supply is gone, assholes. Go somewhere else.

 

barcelona

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Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

We didn’t think of Spain until the cooking show. Then, Elton John’s song came back to me, as if in a dream. I thought of you gently placing three sugar cubes in my saucer before a sudden gust of wind took several pages of our book into the epilogue before the acknowledgements and the references.

Who are you, really? A stranger made up of favorite songs, a few childhood memories with father, the cabin in the woods I think I misplaced from an old movie somewhere between my first boyfriend and our last good-bye (when he turned anorexia into a revenge fantasy). Attachments that I will never know.

I stitch my love into a blanket — in my underwear on a friend’s Barcalounger, pretending I am out under the stars with my bad knees and my handful of wishes. You will miss me when I’m gone, caressing the holes in my favorite stitches, wishing you’d said more.

As the people in the neutral-colored suits trot out the tired eulogies (“I can’t say anything bad about him, he was a saint”) in another terror-driven hit parade, I watch lone gunmen eviscerate their carefully constructed fiction by chasing cheap thrills across state lines.

So long.

Breaking into ‘Breaking Bad’

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As soon as I saw the pants flying in the desert, I was in all the way. My first “Breaking Bad” episode, not my last, as I’m now into the third day of a binge-fest.

Friends singled me out for that show for years. “You have got to watch. It’s so… you.” “I know you’ll love ‘Breaking Bad.’ It’s exactly your style.”

When I read the show summary, I didn’t know whether to be flattered or offended. So, my friends think I’m a boring chemistry teacher type who turns into some crystal meth kingpin? I’m as straight an arrow as you can get, and as scientifically illiterate as they come.

The subject of drugs and drug addicts does not interest me in the least — unless there’s some serious mental illness involved, triggering these characters into a killing rampage.

Oh, wait.

For once, my friends were right about me. I do love this award-winning series. Lead actor Bryan Cranston deserved all of his for portraying a milquetoast of a family man gradually turning to the dark side with very little virtue signaling typical of TV shows nowadays.

I worried that the acting would be mimicry, the dialogue a little too clever to be believed, the plot overtaking the characters, or any two characters taking over the show into supercouple Tiger Beat territory (remember “The Office!”).

Not to worry. This show is as real as it gets, brutally and relentlessly honest about its characters who are both flawed and virtuous.

Well into the second season, I began to get a taste of just how awful these characters could be. To the credit of the actors and the writers, “Breaking Bad” really delves into multi-dimensional character development, with Cliff Note efficiency — one of the hardest things to pull off for any storyteller.

I began hating Cranston’s character, Walter, something awful. After his family and friends toast to his cancer remission, he inexplicably forces his 14-/15-year-old son *Walter Jr./Flynn into drinking what looks like too much scotch.

Dean Norris, who plays Walter’s racist brother-in-law DEA agent Hank, tries to intervene. But that only results in a nasty confrontation, where Walter rewards his family’s devotion with self-serving cruelty.

Walter’s display of ego, pride, and mean-spiritedness thoroughly turned me off. I guess he’s turning into the drug kingpin he once kowtowed to.

Aaron Paul is Walter’s drug-addicted partner Jesse, the kid who already knows the scene and botches every move disastrously with his hapless stupidity. Blessed with natural good looks, charm, and a nice, suburban lifestyle, Jesse never really had to work on his thinking skills other than bare minimal street smarts. (Except for the good-looking part, he reminded me a little of my brother during his wild high school days, ahem.)

Jesse’s innocence paired with Walter’s growing savvy and cutthroat selfishness serves as the heart of this series — even when the kid goes off the deep end, taking his next-door girlfriend with him.

Overall, I surprised myself with how much I’m hanging on with every new episode. Even the slower parts — as the characters go about their day, apart from the rolling crystal meth lab excitement — engage me, because they offer an almost real-time, real-life glimpse into how long it takes for relationships to form before the next thrill ride tests them.

I’ve been watching “Breaking Bad” on Netflix well into the next morning while crocheting two different afghans for two different friends, nursing my bad knee, and trying not to think about my mortality.

Somehow, I re-injured another ligament walking/running last week. I see my doctor Sat. Hopefully I won’t need an MRI, or surgery.

In the meantime, “Breaking Bad” is effectively taking me out of my own anxiety-ridden head and losing me in two fictional characters’ harrowing adventures that are a million times worse than mine.

I’ll take it, especially if I get to see that hottie *RJ Mitte (Walter Jr.) again. He was so my type when I was a little girl… Swoon.

Bella Italia, 1977

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Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash

It started with Better Than Ezra and Lisa’s prom. I saw beauty pageant queens lining up inside Princess Kaiulani for their group picture, a snapshot of the maid of honor I would never become, this woman in an oversized version of her mom’s black velvet rhinestone make-up on another lonely Saturday at the University of Hawaii press gala.

This all happened before the cancer.

I wake up to Hall & Oates in the middle of a printing press on King St., rolling out the latest issue of “Ka Leo.” Bobby’s moving on, Monmouth a digital slab decades short of 9/11. He still has a chance.

Let me take you to Bella Italia, where the daily special’s always Puttanesca.

The Show

“The award for the best liar goes to you.” —Rihanna

“There’s something very wrong with this family. Stay away from them. They hate everything you are.” —mall psychic

These are wonderful, true words. And I’m sure at that point in time she meant it.” —nobody

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I could just leave, and never come back. And so I did. Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

Here, my everything. A battered shoebox of my earthly riches: jacks and a ball, your heart in a sleeve, the book I thought would help. Nothing reaches the boy in a box, save for the gleam in the woods, his savior and his light. Bathed in the promise of salvation, he returns to the fold, a knife in his back, an empty bank account, the tendrils of her manufactured make-up. But maybe I made all that up.

I’m a sucker for a kind word, whether I give it to someone down on his luck, or whether I receive it myself, like a desperate desperado.

People like me are ripe for con artists, the twisted and sick, sad souls who see opportunity in weakness. The times they’ve conned me…

I keep coming back for more because I’m fucking weak, and — little-known secret — I’m good at following the script. There’s a sick, sad part of me that is playing along, playing the role of the Savior. I suppose that’s a bit of Narcissism. I’ll own it.

I gave so much to this tribe of church folk. They will never know just how much.

When I arrived in Seattle, I had nothing. I was standing at the crossroads. To the left, an affair and possible second marriage far far away. To the right, a white-picket-fence suburban life trying to make lemonade out of lemons, to man who could only love halfway, Depend diapers, and 200 pounds, a well-worn, but dirty groove.

Facing a handicapped life, I took the easy road, the only one I ever knew.

The slick shortcut led me to these pillars of society with their Pottery Barn homes and their pointless potlucks. They enjoyed my musician husband, for all he was worth, and let me tag along, the fat, dumpy project.

In hindsight, I wasted so much time with them when I could’ve gone back to work as a reporter, editor, maybe worked on that novel my English professor felt sure I had in me, maybe dropped the baby weight, got back on track running, eating clean.

So much fucking time.

Now, I see on Facebook that one of them is making a huge deal about her physical and emotional transformation (selling a new and improved makeover program from the inside out). Every one of her adoring fans, including the ex-husband she abandoned (or so I’ve heard), is up her formerly fat ass in worship.

Let the social media service commence.

I extended myself toward that ex-, naively thinking we were now in the same boat. Hurting over her and because of her. Survivors in our own special hell.

What the hell was I thinking?

In the back of my mind, the cynical side that my father cultivated, I worried that this was an elaborate act, one I wasn’t a part of.

He probably fell back in line. Like they all do. She’s just too beautiful, charming, and keenly intelligent to resist even after the lives she ripped through. She wins, I lose. She always wins. Always.

Or, maybe all that’s my imagination.

Remember, I’m the playwright in this forgotten role.